Supreme Court allows use of public funds for religious school playground
Supreme Court allows use of public funds for religious school playground

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-2 Monday in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer [SCOTUSblog materials] that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources policy of excluding religious organizations from receiving grants violates the First Amendment. The Department offers grants to public and private schools and daycares to resurface playgrounds with material made from recycled tires. Trinity Lutheran Church applied for a grant for its preschool and daycare center but was denied because it was a religious entity. In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court held that the policy violates the Establishment Clause:

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has not subjected anyone to chains or torture on account of religion. And the result of the State’s policy is nothing so dramatic as the denial of political office. The consequence is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees. But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.

Roberts appeared to attempt to limit the holding to the facts of this case in footnote 3, but Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch did not join as to that note. Thomas filed a concurring opinion, joined by Gorsuch, and Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion, joined by Thomas. Justice Stephen Breyer also filed a concurring opinion. Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined.

The court heard arguments in this case in April after granting certiorari [JURIST report] last year. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit had ruled in favor [opinion, PDF] of the Department’s policy.